Sister Joan (Francis St. Catherine) Mehigan – 70-Year Jubilarian

Joan Mehigan grew up in Somerville, Mass. with her sister, a much older foster brother, her parents—Garret and Catherine (Molloy)—and many dogs! Joan loves animals and her father would regularly bring dogs home for her, despite her mother’s protestations that she was the one left to care for them.

Joan attended St. Joseph School in Somerville, and while in 4th grade she learned that a dog would be raffled off by the school. “So morning, noon and night,” she said, “I would pray in front of the Pietà statue and ask to be able to win that dog. I prayed with my whole heart and soul—like a little child would—and I won the dog! Once I won that dog, I knew there was a God! And everybody would come to me when they wanted something and ask me to pray, but I know I didn’t pray like that for them the way I did to win that dog!” she says with a laugh. But this began a pattern that unfolded in her life of special events that tell her that God is with her.

When she was a child, joining the Congregation didn’t have any appeal for Joan. In retrospect, she thinks her lack of interest stemmed from when the family would visit Joan’s aunt, who was a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. During those visits, Joan and her sister would have to keep still and behave!

After meeting Sisters Joan Therese and Leona Julie in high school Joan became attracted to the idea of becoming a Sister and would often stay after school to help them. She found it a very hard decision to enter the Congregation “because I really liked the boys,” including her boyfriend of three years that she met during one of her weekly visits to the roller skating rink with her cousin.

Joan asked Sister Leona to pray for her in her decision about entering and in the meantime learned that her mother had been praying since her daughters’ births that one would enter religious life. So rather than encountering opposition to the idea, her parents were happy and proud. Leaving for the novitiate in 1962 was difficult, though, and she remembers that the day she left home was the first time she ever saw her father cry.

Sister Francis St. Catherine, as Joan was known then, received her first assignment to teach second grade at St. Mary School in Lawrence, Mass. In time, she taught at elementary schools in Dorchester, Methuen, Worcester, West Newton, Lawrence, and Salem, N.H.

Her favorite mission was to Salem during the time of the Vatican II changes in the Sisters’ lives. “We were more open with the people,” she explained. “Before that, we never had contact with the parents.” During her years of ministry in Salem she “really got friendly with the people there and the parish and the priest.” She became a eucharistic minister and lector for Masses.

While living in West Newton, Joan got her driver’s license and even taught some of the other Sisters to drive, though this all came about because of Joan’s roller skates. There was already someone assigned as the driver for the convent, but that Sister broke her arm when she borrowed Joan’s skates and fell! Before entering Joan had learned from her father how to drive, so she overcame her nerves about taking the driving test and earned her license to help the injured Sister.

In addition to teaching, Sister Joan has served as the administrative assistant at Holy Rosary School in Lawrence and at St. Agnes in Arlington, both in Massachusetts. She has also served in the SNDdeN Development and Finance Office.

During her Jubilee year—and every year–she feels grateful to be alive. In 2008, she had very serious health problems, to the point that the doctors thought she would die. But with God’s help, the prayers of the Sisters and visit from a woman with the gift of healing she survived.

Sister Joan lives with in a community of Sisters in Ipswich and says, “My great joy right now is [that a staff member] has a little puppy she brings to work and she lets it stay in my room all day while she is working. I just love animals!”


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